by Tim Bailey
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Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (GLC07743.01)

Unit Objective

This lesson on President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based units. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate their knowledge by writing summaries of selections from the original document and, by the end of the unit, articulating their understanding of the complete document by answering questions in an argumentative writing style to fulfill the Common Core State Standards. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Lesson 1

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of the content of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will know what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In the first lesson this will be facilitated by the teacher and done as a whole-class lesson.

Introduction

Tell the students that they will be learning what Abraham Lincoln was saying in the Gettysburg Address by reading and understanding Lincoln’s own words. Resist the temptation to put the speech into too much context. Remember, we are trying to let the students discover what Lincoln had to say and then develop ideas based solely on his words.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given a copy of the Gettysburg Address and then are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The teacher then “share reads” the address with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. The teacher explains that the students will be analyzing the first part of the speech today and that they will be learning how to do in-depth analysis for themselves. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #1. This contains the first selection from the Gettysburg Address.
  4. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #1 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device) and explains that today the whole class will be going through this process together.
  5. The teacher explains that the objective is to select “Key Words” from the first section and then use those words to create a summary sentence that demonstrates an understanding of what Lincoln was saying in the first paragraph.
  6. Guidelines for selecting the Key Words: Key Words are very important contributors to understanding the text. They are usually nouns or verbs. Don’t pick “connector” words (are, is, the, and, so, etc.). The number of Key Words depends on the length of the original selection. This selection is only 30 words long so we can pick four or five Key Words. The other Key Words rule is that we cannot pick words if we don’t know what they mean. There will be opportunities to teach students how to use context clues, word analysis, and dictionary skills to discover word meanings.
  7. Students will now select four or five words from the text that they believe are Key Words and write them in the Key Words box in their organizers.
  8. The teacher surveys the class to find out what the most popular choices were. The teacher can either tally this or just survey by a show of hands. Using this vote and some discussion the class should, with guidance from the teacher, decide on four or five Key Words. For example, let’s say that the class decides on the following words: new nation (yes, these are two words, but you can allow such things if it makes sense to do so), liberty, men, and equal. Now, no matter which words the students had previously selected, have them write the words agreed upon by the class or chosen by you into the Key Words box in their organizers.
  9. The teacher now explains that, using these Key Words, the class will write a sentence that summarizes what Lincoln was saying. This should be a whole-class discussion-and-negotiation process. For example, “They created a new nation of liberty where all men are equal.” You might find that the class decides they don’t need the some of the words to make it even more streamlined. This is part of the negotiation process. The final negotiated sentence is copied into the organizer in the third section under the original text and Key Words sections.
  10. The teacher explains that students will restate the summary sentence in their own words, not having to use Lincoln’s words. Again, this is a class discussion-and-negotiation process. For example, “They started a country where everyone would be free and treated the same.”
  11. Wrap-up: Discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. If the teacher chooses, the students could use the back of their organizers to make a note of these words and their meanings.

Lesson 2

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of the content of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will know what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In the second lesson the students will work with partners and in small groups.

Introduction

Tell the students that they will be further exploring what President Lincoln was talking about in the second selection from the Gettysburg Address by reading and understanding Lincoln’s words and then being able to tell, in their own words, what he said. Today they will be working with partners and in small groups.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given a copy of the address and then are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The students and teacher discuss what they did yesterday and what they decided was the meaning of the first selection.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the second selection with the students.
  4. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the second part of the Gettysburg Address today. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #2. This contains the second selection from the speech.
  5. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #2 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device). Explain that today they will be going through the same process as yesterday but as partners and small groups.
  6. The teacher explains that the objective is still to select “Key Words” from the second paragraph and then use those words to create a summary sentence that demonstrates an understanding of what Lincoln was talking about in that selection.
  7. The guidelines for selecting Key Words are the same as they were yesterday. However, because this paragraph is longer, they can pick six to eight words.
  8. Pair the students up and have them negotiate which Key Words to select. After they have decided on their words both students will write them in the Key Words box of their organizers.
  9. The teacher now puts two pairs together. These two pairs go through the same discussion-and-negotiation process to come up with their Key Words. Be strategic in how you make your groups to ensure the most participation by all group members.
  10. The teacher now explains that the group will use the Key Words to build a sentence that summarizes what Lincoln was talking about. This is done by the group negotiating with its members on how best to build that sentence. Try to make sure that everyone is contributing to the process. It is very easy for one student to take control and for the other students to let them do so. All of the students should write their negotiated sentence into their organizers.
  11. The teacher now asks for the groups to share out their summary sentences. This should start a teacher-led discussion that points out the qualities of the various attempts. How successful were the groups at understanding Lincoln’s text and were they careful to only use Lincoln’s Key Words in doing so?
  12. The teacher explains that the group will now restate the summary sentence in their own words, not having to use Lincoln’s words. Again, this is a group discussion-and-negotiation process. After they have decided on a sentence it should be written into their organizers.
  13. The teacher should have the groups share out and discuss the clarity and quality of the groups’ attempts.
  14. Wrap-up: Discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. If the teacher chooses, the students could use the back of their organizers to make a note of these words and their meanings.

Lesson 3

Objective

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of the content of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Through reading and analyzing the original text, the students will know what is explicitly stated, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary and then restating that summary in the student’s own words. In this lesson the students will be working individually.

Introduction

Tell the students that they will be further exploring what President Lincoln was talking about in the third section of the Gettysburg Address by reading and understanding Lincoln’s words and then being able to tell, in their own words, what he said. Today they will be working by themselves on their summaries.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given a copy of the Gettysburg Address and then are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The students and teacher discuss what they did yesterday and what they decided was the meaning of the first and second selections.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the third selection with the students.
  4. The teacher explains that the class will be analyzing the third selection from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address today. All students are given a copy of Summary Organizer #3. This contains the third selection from the speech.
  5. The teacher puts a copy of Summary Organizer #3 on display in a format large enough for all of the class to see (an overhead projector, Elmo projector, or similar device)and explains that the students will be going through the same process as yesterday, but they will be working by themselves.
  6. The teacher explains that the objective is still to select “Key Words” from the third paragraph and then use those words to create a summary sentence that demonstrates an understanding of what Lincoln was talking about in that selection.
  7. The guidelines for selecting these words are the same as they were yesterday. However, because this paragraph is 166 words, they can pick up to ten Key Words.
  8. Have the students decide which Key Words to select. After they have chosen their words they will write them in the Key Words box of their organizers.
  9. The teacher now explains that, using these Key Words, the students will build a sentence that summarizes what Lincoln was saying. They should write their summary sentences into their organizers.
  10. The students will now restate the summary sentence in their own words, not having to use Lincoln’s words. This should be added to their organizers.
  11. The teacher should have the groups share out and discuss the clarity and quality of the groups’ attempts.
  12. Wrap-up: Discuss vocabulary that the students found confusing or difficult. If the teacher chooses, the students could use the back of their organizers to make a note of these words and their meanings.

Lessons 4 and 5

Objective

This lesson has three objectives. First, the students will synthesize the work of the last three days and demonstrate that they understand what Lincoln was saying in the Gettysburg Address. Second, the students will analyze the writing craft of Abraham Lincoln by examining his use of the word “dedicate” in this document. Third, the teacher will ask questions of the students that require them to make inferences from the text and support their conclusions with explicit information from the text. They can write their answers in the form of a short argumentative essay either during this lesson, for homework, or during the next class period.

Introduction

Tell the students that they will be reviewing what Abraham Lincoln was saying in the Gettysburg Address. Second, the students will be looking closely at how Lincoln carefully crafted this speech by his choice of words. Finally, you will be asking them to write a short argumentative essay about this speech; explain that their conclusions must be backed up by evidence taken directly from the text.

Materials

Procedure

  1. All students are given a copy of the Gettysburg Address and are asked to read it silently to themselves.
  2. The teacher asks the students for their best personal summary of selection one. This is done as a negotiation or discussion. The teacher may write this short sentence on the overhead or similar device. The same procedure is used for selections two and three. When they are finished, the class should have a summary, either written or oral, of Lincoln’s address in only a few sentences. This should give the students a way to state the general purpose or purposes of the speech.
  3. The teacher then explains that Lincoln used one particular word six times in this short speech, and as the speech developed so did the meaning of the word. He used it once in the first paragraph, twice in the second paragraph, and three times in the third paragraph. Have the students try to figure out what the word is before you tell them that it is “dedicate.”
  4. The teacher puts a highlighted copy of the Gettysburg Address on the overhead, but covers up the definitions at the bottom of the page for now. Ask the students to figure out how the meaning of the word changes from paragraph to paragraph. After this discussion reveal the definitions at the bottom of the page and match the definitions with the highlighted words.
  5. The teacher should ask the students the following questions:
    • How does the use of the word “dedicate” change the meaning of the message in the paragraph?
    • Why did Lincoln choose to use the same word over and over in this short speech instead of picking different words that mean the same thing?
    • How does the use of “dedicate” change who Lincoln is talking to or about?
  6. The teacher can decide to have the students write a short essay now addressing one of the following prompts or do a short lesson on constructing an argumentative essay. If this is the case, the essay can be written during the next class period or assigned for homework. Remind the students that any arguments they make must be backed up with words taken directly from the Gettysburg Address. The first prompt is designed to be the easiest.

Prompts

  1. How does Lincoln move us from the beginning of our country to the future of our country in this speech?
  2. In this speech the word slavery is never used, but make an argument that President Lincoln is talking about abolishing slavery in the speech.
  3. How does President Lincoln argue that, despite the lives lost, the Civil War is worth fighting for?

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Discussion

I respect the Center's work, but I think that this lesson is not very good, and reflects the much-complained-of bias of the Common Core Standards for "deep reading". Deep reading is a particular style of literary analysis, in which the reader is to rely on only a text to understand the meaning of the text. I think that there is a strong argument to be made for the view that this is not the way we want our citizens to read, and that it is not a very useful method of reading outside of a college lit class.

This lesson plan exhibits the problems of applying the deep reading method to a text where such analysis is inappropriate. For one thing, the Gettysburg Address is so well written that there is not an unnecessary word in it. To ask students to summarize a piece of writing like this is like asking them to summarize a computer program. So it is not surprising that both of the summary statements in the first lesson do not accurately state what the first part of the Address says.

In addition, deep reading does not allow the reader to consider the intent of a writer or the audience for whom s/he is writing. This is reasonable when analyzing a sonnet, but when the text is a piece of political rhetoric designed to be heard & read in a particular time, place, and circumstances, forcing students to do deep reading deprives them of a full understanding of the meaning and importance of the text. Indeed, your lesson-writer's suggested prompts presume that the students have a considerable amount of information that does not appear in the text. A student who, for some reason, knew nothing about American history, would have no way of writing to these prompts after going through the lessons.

Finally, with regard to some kinds of text, deep reading does very little to give students a way of judging the quality of the work or others. A student can deeply read a series of sonnets and come away with knowledge of poetic structure and language that will help the student evaluate other sonnets. But many other genres of writing cannot be analyzed and evaluated by a reader if that reader knows nothing about the context in which the text was written, the writer's purpose, the writer's expertise, the writer's biases, and the intended audience. Among these genres are political speeches, political, economic, and scientific commentary, history, government reports, and legal documents such as mortgages & credit card contracts. Yet we want citizens to be particularly good at reading and evaluating these kinds of writing.

There are good things in the Common Core Standards; but the idea that students should be taught only one way to analyze written texts (particularly when that one way is deep reading) is not one of those good things.


I also respect G.L., but I ask you to find a history teacher in this country who has the time to spend 5 days on the Gettysburg Address. I team teach in 8th grade and the English teacher and combined 3 days on it - more than anyone else. 2 days in English to analyze from the standpoint of poetry (8th grade curriculum) and one to analyze, contextualize and discuss from the history perspective.

Efectively this lesson asks students to create their own word cloud, a more engaging and relevant lesson which could be done in 1-2 days.

I do disagree with the previous comment however. The point of asking students to summarize something is to be certain that they understand it. It is extremely important that students be able to summarzie the MEANING of the Gettysburg Address.


I agree that it is important for students to understand the meaning of the Gettysburg Address, but really, how can you teach meaning if you are to "resist the temptation to put the speech into context"? The context of the Gettysburg Address is the important part. It's just a speech until you understand the surrounding events. If this lesson is really for highschoolers, I think they should have something more in-depth. They also ought to spend 5 days focusing on something other than a speech. While the Gettysburg Address is important, there are many more historical events that deserve attention as well.


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